Five Poems to Celebrate National Poetry Month

When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir

I write this at the end of what seems like the longest month of my life. For a poet here in the United States, April is almost always the loudest, stormiest, busiest month—filled with readings to attend, to give, and new poetry collections blooming every week. What a time to luxuriate and revel in the power of a finely crafted metaphor, a clever line break, or a last line that just pierces you into silence for a moment! 

But what of this year, when death and illness seem to be the only thing now blooming when we tug (or touch) each other. If you are like me, the days have been blended together, and most days, it feels like it’s perpetually four p.m. In the morning, I reflexively turn on the news to check the heartbeat of the planet with a hope that the death toll from this virus has finally stopped growing. When I find the disappointing answer, I have to will myself to go about my day, set up my kids’ online classroom stations at the kitchen table or at their desks, prepare for the hours when my husband and I set up our own online classes, and check off my to-do list. Or I could curl up on the couch and weep over missing my elderly parents who reside in Florida, worry when I will get to hug them and walk and talk with them in their garden filled with tropical fruit trees again. Worry when one of them will have to go to the store and what they will be exposed to. Worry over my friend’s lingering cough that he swears is allergies. 

But not today. Today it is seventy-eight degrees and sunny here in Oxford, Mississippi, and there is a bluebird telenovela taking place in my backyard. Once in a while, an unwanted blue jay interrupts the scene and what an actor he is—looking lost at first, then shoving the bystander Carolina wrens away from our window feeders. Squawking so loud he frightens the nesting bluebird couple. The nerve!

I wish I could tell you that this bird reverie carried me upward and onward through this most difficult of months. Not so. The reality and grief over missing my beloved students—I never got to say goodbye in person as classes were moved online over spring break a couple of weeks ago—and all the scary news of the spread of the virus and a thousand other worries for our planet and its inhabitants have kept me awake, in a state of alarm, and when I sleep—it is not sound. 

But I believe in poetry. I believe it can elevate you for even just a brief moment—not to forget the horror surrounding us (it’s there, it’s there. I can’t pretend it’s not)—but it can alter how we see the world, how we see each other. I have faith that we will be able to touch each other and break bread together at the same table again soon. Maybe not as soon as I’d like, but soon. At least that is what I tell my sons. And when that day comes, how lucky to find ourselves attached to the rest of the world once again!

Below you will find five poems, hand-selected by me, to get you started. We’ll be sharing some previously published poems on Orion’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, and email newsletters throughout the month of April. Come back and check this bounty, this bouquet, this bloom!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Poetry Editor

 

Layli Long Soldier: Whereas I did not desire (May/June 2017)
Sally Wen Mao: Phra Nang (Fall 2019)
Oliver de la Paz: Diaspora Sonnet 44 (Winter 2018) 
Ellen Bass: Roses (Summer 2017)
Brian Doyle: Tyee (May/June 2016)

 

More Resources:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of the New York Times best-selling illustrated collection of nature essays and Kirkus Prize finalist, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), which was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s Book of the Year. She has four previous poetry collections: OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press. Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of epistolary garden poems with the poet Ross Gay. Her writing appears twice in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPNPloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.